Summer is such a beautiful time for soaking up a delicious dose of vitamin D. But sometimes, we have the tendency to let ourselves get a little too “well done”. The searing pain of sunburn is a painful reminder that as blissful as sunshine seems, it is an unforgiving ‘frenemy’.
Overexposure to the sun can result in skin cells experiencing oxidative stress. This describes the imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects. Antioxidants provide the neutralisation that the body requires to detoxify itself of free radicals.
A diet that consists of foods that contain high levels of antioxidants will help in fortifying the skin cells’ natural defence. Such antioxidants include: vitamins A, C, and E, beta-carotene, and of course, polyphenols. And what is our favourite source of polyphenols? All together now: TEA!
Drinking tea (along with eating antioxidant packed foods) is a great way to help the skin repair itself. But why stop at just ingesting antioxidants? When ‘sunkissed’ has become an understatement after a stint in the outdoors, your skin will also be begging for a refreshing drink. This is when a tea wash could really help in soothing those tender areas.
A simple, cool tea brew in a bowl that you can dip a washcloth into to apply to the burnt areas makes for an easy DIY sunburn treatment. The question is which tea out of black and green is the more effective ingredient.
Green tea contains higher levels of the polyphenol, epigallocatechin-gallate, or EGCG. EGCG is known to have powerful antioxidant effects, which as previously mentioned, is conducive to the skin’s natural defence. Studies also demonstrate EGCG’s potential in promoting the death of cancer cells as well being a source of anti-inflammatory properties.
Black tea, on the other hand, only offers low levels of EGCG. Through oxidation most of the EGCG is converted to other polyphenols called theaflavin and thearubigin, which are also a class of tannins. Tannins also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help post-sun skin inflammation.
Keep in mind most of the benefits of green and black tea are mainly reaped when actually drinking them. This isn’t to say that the skin wouldn’t benefit from direct application, but based on the available research the most tangible results stem from what the tannins in particular have to offer when used directly on the skin. However, an evaluation of the anti-inflammatory effects of green and black tea from the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research does state that the anti-inflammatory properties of green tea are more active likely due to its higher flavonoid content, otherwise known as antioxidants. As to whether this translates to being useful when applied to the skin still remains unclear.
Taking all of this into account, the higher tannin levels in black tea, may give it that soothing remedial advantage. However, there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing on the subject of which is more effective with either seeming to be an acceptable option. The addition of essential oils can also add a calming and aromatic element to any DIY tea wash.
The following is a recipe for a sunburn tea treatment. It can be either applied as a wash, or with a compress, or dispensed with a spray bottle. Because we encourage the tea to be brewed for as much as possible, this is a recipe that should ideally be made in advance. Most of the time, sunburn is an unexpected occurrence, but if you’re planning a day at the beach, have some tea ready and brewing in the fridge the night before, just in case...
Soothing Tea Wash Recipe
- 3 tea bags or 3 heaped teaspoons of loose leaf plain black or plain green tea
- 600mL of boiling water
- 5 drops of peppermint oil — (helps reduce pain from burns)
- 10 drops of lavender oil — (helps heal burns)
- Let the tea brew in a bowl of the boiling water. If using loose leaf, keep the leaves in an infuser/tea sock/DIY teabag, so you can easily remove them.
- Wait for the tea to cool down then place it in the fridge until you need to use it the next day, or at most, the day after — leave the teabags/tea leaves in until it needs to be used.
- Before use, remove teabag/tea leaves, and add the essential oils.
- The wash can be applied several ways:
- Using a soft cloth soaked in the tea wash, gently, but generously, dab the affected areas — sit in the shower/bath to avoid creating a wet mess elsewhere
- A compress soaked in the tea wash is good for smaller areas like your face or neck and will allow the skin to better absorb the liquid
- Pour the contents into a spray bottle, so you can spritz it all over with ease — be mindful that tea can stain, so this is also best done in the shower/bath where it can easily be rinsed away
- Refrigerated, brewed tea can eventually spoil, which is why this recipe is best used within a day or two of being made, or a week at most as this is when most prepared foods and drinks should be kept before being discarded. Obviously this isn’t a recipe for drinking, but the quality of the tea will decrease thus reducing its beneficial antioxidant properties.
- Only plain green or black teas should be used.
- Some DIY sunburn treatment recipes call for earl grey tea, probably because of its lovely fragrance. However, earl grey contains bergamot oil. Bergamot oil is high in its own antioxidant activity but it also contains naturally occurring substances that, when applied externally, have been found to cause irritation and increased skin sensitivity to the sun. Therefore, avoid any fancy blends and keep it simple with a traditional green or black tea base.
Prevention, of course, is better than cure, so before heading out, apply liberal amounts of sunscreen, cover up, and always protect yourself from the sun. So hopefully the only way you’ll need to take your iced tea this summer is through a straw out of a tall glass.